Thousands of college students who dropped out or suspended their studies due to the pandemic are returning to the City University of New York on Wednesday for their first day of school.
After a slow start, over 14,400 former students re-enrolled ahead of this semester as part of the CUNY Reconnect initiative, which launched in the fall. The program encourages New Yorkers with college loans to earn a degree. By the end of last semester, 3,000 students had taken advantage of it.
During the winter break, a team of 50 outreach workers, called “navigators,” redoubled their efforts by reaching out to former students who had some sort of college credit but didn’t have a degree to show it off.
Among that group was Yoslin Reyes, 21, who told the Daily News she gradually stopped attending classes in 2019 while pregnant due to financial issues until she lost financial aid at Queensboro Community College.
“Right now I’m in a pretty good position in life and I wanted to go back to school,” said Reyes, who gave birth in May at the height of the pandemic. “Mostly for my daughter.”
The navigators, who collectively speak six languages, have helped students secure scholarships and access childcare so they don’t drop out again.
Reyes said she worked with staff to reapply for financial aid at no cost to her. She also changed her major from criminal justice to medical sciences and became a dental hygienist.
“I must be able to provide [my daughter] financially. If she sees that I’m in school, I’m not saying that she should go to college … but I really hope that she thinks about it, ”Reyes said.
The $4.4 million pilot program in this year’s city budget, championed by City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams (D-Queens), serves 4,000 more students than originally thought.
“I am delighted that this groundbreaking initiative has surpassed its original goal of helping New Yorkers improve their education and careers,” Adams said in a statement.
Most program participants are black or Hispanic and live in Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. Many of the re-enrolled students enrolled in classes at Manhattan County Community College, Queensboro Community College and Queens College.
The idea for the program came from an article by the Center for Urban Futures, according to which about 700,000 New Yorkers aged 25 to 64 attended some college classes but did not graduate.
The researchers found that black and Hispanic women make up 35% of that population, even though they make up only 26% of New Yorkers of working age overall.
According to the study, many dropped out of college with just a few credits to complete their degree, and as a result, they took on most of the financial burden of higher education without the benefits and earnings of a college degree.
Last month, CUNY and Adams announced plans to build a welcome center at York College in Jamaica, Queens, where former students can meet with counselors to discuss re-enrollment and related services and support.
“We are very proud to welcome the over 14,000 students who have returned to CUNY or are freshmen who have suspended their studies after graduating from high school due to the pandemic,” said CUNY Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez.
“By raising their education, they are preparing for better paying jobs and will lead the continued rebirth of our city.”